Why Hong Kong Racing must change the narrative...

In a recent Talking Points column in the racing page of the SCMP, racing reporter Sam Agars wrote, “There is the thinking that Hongkongers need horse racing more than ever during periods of severe restrictions”.

“Need?” “More than ever?” Horse racing? In a Hong Kong that’s suddenly gone and changed forever right in front of our eyes?

This came after some flaccid horse racing news with Hong Kong Jockey Club executive supremo “Capitan” Bill Nader, below, under the headline, “Could ‘lockdown’ wreak havoc on Champions Day?”

It was nothing wrong. A racing reporter doing his job chatting to a racing executive who was doing his job, but the space given to the future of a horse race and quarantine plans for visiting millionaire jockeys and trainers when an entire city is not only fighting for its life, but for its future well-being, the story came across being a tad callous. Oh, and in case one forgets, there’s a war going on.

Though still enjoying bibs and bobs of horse racing, it’s not anything like the glory days of those Happy Wednesday nights. What takes precedence over everything else is the welfare of family, close friends, and my growing involvement in creating anything I can for children who are growing up in a global environment of fear- fear often caused by adults gulping down Stupid pills.

My priority and that of my friends, some of whom having more than a passing interest in horse racing, is on what might help make Hong Kong a happy place again. Everything else is in a holding pattern.

Here’s where I personally see a problem with the “racing bubble”: It’s not sustainable, it has run its course in its present guise and, right or wrong, it’s coming across as asking a lot of everyone to keep on keeping on with no real closure.

Those policing this “bubble”, too often seem deaf and apathetic to what the other side is going through, especially the silent screams about the immense mental pressures, especially on jockeys who must also cope with the physical pressures of race riding.

Maybe these “participants” feel that showing stress and mental fatigue would be considered “weak”?

Maybe they fear that this would rob them of the only reason why they are still in pretty much broken down Hong Kong and, let’s just admit it, why they’ve always been here- the big money up for grabs.

To keep this gig, they must appear to be fit enough to ride- especially mentally fit in what includes making split second decisions in the heat of the competitiveness of the moment and where there’s no margin for error.

All this is not to say that horse racing in Hong Kong is not “needed”. It is, as it’s popular. It’s a stress buster to those now only able to watch their favourite pastime on television, and is still followed religiously by many who have grown up with it since the Eighties. But these are not the Eighties.

Having said this, for the Hong Kong Jockey Club to continue being seen in 2022 and onwards as a community leader in a city currently under siege as a pandemic surges through it, how cleverly the Club navigates its way, changes with the times and stays relevant becomes more important than ever to Hong Kong Belongers.

There’s no place these days for any Alfred E Neumann “What? Me? Worry?” type thinking.

That pukka swagger went out with colonialism, Noel Coward songs, “Noble House” and taipans.

Today, in Hong Kong, while some might be talking about the metaverse and virtual worlds, there’s real life panic and fear- and in case it hasn’t already been mentioned- mental anguish, something that affects and weakens immune systems.

Fighting this pandemic and how the steps that need to be taken have been communicated has been farcical.

After months of meandering plans and vague announcements by the Hong Kong government’s team led largely by two confused housewife politicians has reached an impasse. They’ve lost all confidence.

Their “solution” to the ongoing problem? STAY AT HOME. And then what? Join those others who have flown the coop and gone over the cuckoo’s nest?

What’s next? What is the exit plan? Is there one?

All this was questioned last week in an extremely lengthy open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor by longtime prominent businessman Alan Zeman.

Alan Zeman and the Chief Executive have had an outwardly cosy relationship for years. He could have picked up the phone and called her. But he didn’t.

He chose to go “rogue” and offered his services in any way that they could be used. Quite correctly, he felt that the ongoing mixed messages between various spokespeople for the government and the media is doing nothing for the international image of Hong Kong. He’s right.

They’re making the once world city look second rate and as if it’s being run by a bungling and somewhat erratic auntie.

Since The Tome Of AZ, all the faults of this mixed nuts of messages and the constant moving of goalposts have been picked up by others including those leaders in Beijing who are now questioning many of the decisions made by the government’s own Muppets Show starring The Lamkins.

This is hardly a good sign for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Housewife’s team of domestic helpers. It could even be seen as the final nail in their coffin.

As the success of everything is built on the image and attractiveness of a city, where does horse racing fit into the future of Hong Kong?

Other than wagering and turnover and the enormous betting duty paid to the government, its evolving role and relevance to the community requires thought, especially how it’s perceived by the millions who are NOT fans of the gambling aspects of the pastime.

We are not all “gambling mad Asians”. Nor are we all “Crazy Rich Asians”. Most of us are multi dimensional individuals with a buffet of different tastes. We want to be entertained.

This is why, as mentioned a few days ago, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is much more than being only a racing club because of its Charities Trust- something I have written about at length for almost a decade- needs to work to this strength.

How this important USP is marketed has always been willy nilly. Things always are when the going is good and mediocrity is accepted. But not any more.

Now is the time for the proven leadership skills and popularity of Chief Executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges to show that the Hong Kong Jockey Club is not a one-trick pony caught up in its own bubble.

It’s about proving through a strategic programme- and with the right team and business partners in place who understand communications, marketing and how to use new technology- ways in which the Hong Kong Jockey Club is able to give Hong Kong what it really needs right now - Hope, faith, charity. A support system people trust.

Today, in every business, it’s about showing empathy, and reminding people of priorities and how it’s not that other fear- the fear of losing out on making more and more and more money.

This is where Hong Kong has gone horribly wrong- historically: Being so materialistically driven for decades and creating generations built upon layer upon layer of jealousy, rich family competitiveness, superficiality, pretentiousness, selfishness and with so many being terminally Oliver Twisted. It’s a black comedy waiting to be made.

Is any of this filed under being “aspirational”? I bailed out of a marriage when I thought I saw a nouveau riche puddy tat lifestyle heading myself. It scared me.

For the Hong Kong Jockey Club, it’s time to release the air out of that “racing bubble”, especially now that the government is finally discovering that lockdowns in any form don’t work. They only create more and more doubt and divisiveness.

It’s time for more emphasis on empathy on different levels and see where this leads.

Looking forward, new ways in which the Hong Kong Jockey Club will help heal Hong Kong might even finally wake the city up to see where it’s been going wrong for decades and how that once barren rock somehow lost its way.

One thing’s for sure: Everything has changed. Nothing can continue as it did and without showing Empathy and offering Hope.


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